Saturday, October 22, 2016

Dir En Grey - Macabre

More Experimental

The band was on a roll commercially, so after the release of Gauze, they quickly found themselves signed to a sub-division of Sony. After you get your first major record label deal, it's only logical to follow up with a more experimental, bizarre release. I do wonder how the hell Dir en grey managed to convinced the suits in charge to greenlight some of these songs especially since they were a really young band at the time. I guess it's just one of those "only in Japan" things.

The opening intro track, Deity, quickly makes it clear that Macabre is a totally different beast. There's some weird electronic shit going on, and there's a bunch of random vocal stuff in the background. It's actually quite spooky and foreboding. The full band properly comes in later about halfway through, and plays some rather heavy, aggressive material albeit in a strange and ominous fashion. And that is a step in the right direction to describing the character of this album, it's more aggressive, but at the same time a lot weirder.

Macabre is probably one of the band's most inaccessible albums and as a result it's a lot more subtle. It lacks a lot of the poppy hooks of their older material and middle period. It also lacks the flashy technical acrobatics and inhuman vocal performance from Kyo in their later albums. In spite of this, I've grown to appreciate and love its eccentricities. is the first proper song on the album, and I also assert it to be one of Dir en grey's most underrated works. In fact, virtually everything about this song I find to be downright brilliant. The opening melody that's traded between Die and Kaoru, Toshiya's bass slides, Shinya's weirdly timed drumming, and Kyo's screams all gel perfectly together to create a dark, haunting atmosphere. And then the way the band turns on a dime to a more melodic, lighter chorus with acoustic guitar work and bass melodies is also amazing. The contrast, oddly timed phrasing, and overall weirdness of starts Macabre off on a really high note.

The excellent musicianship from Gauze is retained here. Die and Kaoru both play some excellent melodies and complement each other very well. Toshiya is a beastly bassist. He's got some great lines all over the place. Shinya steps up his game slightly on Macabre. There's more clever patterns and more weirdly timed beats. In fact, the band steps up a bit in the songwriting department as well. While there are some poppier numbers around, the songs are generally arranged in a more complicated, slightly experimental J-Rock direction. Mind you, nothing here is really progressive (aside from one track), but there was definitely more effort put into the songwriting this time around. Also, Kyo continues to improve vocally. It's not a major contrast like the difference between their indie days and Gauze, but it's noticeable. He experiments a little more with his voice, makes some more strange noises, and puts in a lot more screaming and harsh vocals into the work. It's still a long way from the sheer insanity of Kyo's voice today, but his performance here is certainly admirable.

Genre-wise, Macabre mostly falls into "J-Rock," but as you might guess, that really doesn't mean much for this band. We can find some more aggressive more metallish numbers, some beautiful ballads, and even some funky-tinged tracks. For the most part, this is all pulled off extremely well, but there is one splotch that doesn't really jive with me. Hydra has a pretty good idea and starts off fairly well. Too bad it's way too long and way too repetitive. I don't find it horrible, but really this song would have been way better if it was just 2 minutes long. The random ambient break in the middle doesn't really do much for me either.

However, I'll happily defend the integrity of every other track. 蛍火 is one of the band's best ballads, and it features some gorgeous violin playing. You even get used to the random screeching noise in the middle of the violin break after a while. 【KR】cube and Berry serve as a one-two punch of upbeat, fun J-rock with the former is being slightly funky in character. 羅刹国 isn't quite as amazing as 残 -ZAN- from Gauze, but it does its job as the album's obligatory heavy track very well. Audrey is probably the most poppy number here. And while it doesn't reach the catchiness of some the band's previous tracks such as -I'll-, it's still quite respectable.

But where Dir en grey really hits it out of the park is with the long, almost 11 minute song, MACABRE -揚羽ノ羽ノ夢ハ蛹-. I would consider this to be the band's first, bona fide progressive outing. It features long, extended sections, lots of development, and songwriting brilliance all around. The way the guitars, bass, and drums all interact during the verses is simply top notch. I love the tradeoff between Toshiya and both Kaoru and Die with the backdrop of Shinya's characteristic drumming. Kyo's voice starts off very solemnly and stately, but as the music rises, so does the passion and intensity of his vocal delivery. The self-titled track also has excellent use of tension and knows to build up to climaxes and to let you down from high points. There's some beautiful guitar solos in here, and I'd even go as far as to say that this is one of the band's best moments in their entire career. The way the song ends on a soft note is just icing on the cake.

I've had this album for many years, but it took me a very long time to come around to it. Fans of Gauze may be disappointed at the lack of poppy hooks here. Fans of later Dir en grey may feel this one to be too soft. However, Macabre is a unique album even within the band's bizarre discography and deserves to be appreciated on its own merits. I've seen many fans gloss over this one, but honestly I find it to be one of their strongest moments. It's definitely not the Dir en grey album I would start out with, but it's one of the ones I come back to the most often. I don't like it quite as much as Gauze or Arche, but I still think it's wonderful.

Rating: 95/100

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